Read Eden Online

Authors: Dorothy Johnston

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Women Sleuths, #book, #FF, #FIC022040

Eden (10 page)

. . .

Julia's
wig shop was also in Parramatta Road, about five kilometres closer to the city. I found the number on a dark-green door, opened it and climbed some stairs. A faded sign told me that what had once been a ballroom had been divided into shops and offices.
Julia's
was one.

Wigs were displayed on the heads of mannequins. Some had faces and some didn't, which created an unsettling impression. The old-fashioned showroom was somewhere between respectable and down at heel. I guessed that
Julia's
must do practically all of its business by mail order.

A young woman behind a counter was plaiting yellow ribbon into long brown hair. She looked up and asked if she could help.

I sniffed a familiar smell in the air, then smiled and complimented her on the wigs. I'd seen a beautiful ash-blonde one, I told her, on a Canberra woman whom I knew by sight. I wanted one just like it.

The young woman showed me several wigs, none as striking or so finely made as Margot Lancaster's. I described the one I wanted, and asked how much it would cost. My eyes widened involuntarily at the answer.

Perhaps they kept photographs of the wigs they sold?

The sales assistant asked me to wait a moment, and disappeared through a door behind a counter. I heard her voice, but would have sworn that nobody else was in the shop, and assumed that she was talking on a phone.

When she came back, she was polite, but apologetic. She had no photographs of a wig such as the one I'd described. It would be possible to make it though. She offered to email me a quote. I said I'd think about it and thanked her for her time.

Descending the stairs with a backward glance, I felt that Margot might well have bought her wig from
Julia's
, but that didn't bring me much closer to identifying my intruder. I admitted to myself that the smell, which I'd now noted three times, could easily be a common one used in the cleaning and maintenance of wigs, and that it might have other uses too.

As I joined the long snake of traffic heading back out along Parramatta Road, I wondered if it was a coincidence that
Julia's
and Lawrence's shop were both in the same street. I did not think a firm offer had been made for Margot's club. If it had, she would not have kept the good news to herself, or cared about using me to arrange a favourable interview. On the other hand, assuming she
was
keen to sell, where were the For Sale signs and advertisements? Perhaps Margot was avoiding drawing attention to her wish, because it might lead reporters to speculate, and bring more bad publicity.

My thoughts returned to Simon Lawrence. Yes, I could see him smiling, being charming, then holding Jenny Bishop down, face squashed into the pillow, frightening and humiliating her.

I parked and walked down Wigram Road towards Harold Park, keeping in the shade as much as possible. The roots of large trees had buckled and tipped the footpath, which sloped steeply down. I made for each one's shadow, the illusion of cool air closest to the trunk, where the smell of earth was concentrated, and eucalyptus resin rose from huge, ant-filled cracks in the asphalt, heady as a cough inhalant.

Double- and triple-storey terraces lined both sides of the street. Their owners' cars did too, which was why I'd parked further up the hill. The houses were all renovated, with front doors painted sophisticated shades of green. The one belonging to the house where Jenny Bishop had lived boasted an outsize knocker. Its shape was suggestive. I considered it, then knocked with my fist.

I introduced myself to a tall, thin, fair-haired man, and told him the same story I'd told Rose, adding that Jenny's name had come up in ­connection with Margot Lancaster's club, and I wondered if he'd mind answering a few questions. He looked doubtful, but didn't refuse outright. After a moment's hesitation, he invited me inside.

I followed him down a passageway of polished pine, past a row of hooks where last winter's coats and scarves hung waiting for the next, to a kitchen that smelt of summer fruit. He motioned me to sit down at a wooden table, and told me his name was Ian. He was very skinny indeed, with the long, transparent thinness that seems to have trouble remaining upright.

The kitchen was cool, the walls of the old house thick and well-shaded by trees surrounding a courtyard at the back. Windows with white frames and old-fashioned metal catches were closed against the heat.

‘Did you know Jenny well?' I asked.

Ian leant against a bench. I noticed that his hands shook slightly, but his voice was steady enough. ‘We met when she was in first year,' he said, then, in a different, agitated voice, ‘Jen had been giving death the finger for years.'

‘This time she succeeded in killing herself—is that what you think?'

‘That's what it looks like. I really don't know what to think.'

‘Why would she start using again?'

Instead of answering me, Ian said, ‘What about this club you ­mentioned?'

‘It's called
Margot's
. Jenny worked there for a while last year.'

Ian nodded in recognition.

I took out the flyer with the photograph of Simon Lawrence and asked him if he'd seen it.

‘She did show me. Us. Yes.'

‘Us?'

‘Me and Francesca. My girlfriend.'

‘Francesca lives here?'

Ian nodded.

‘What did you think when Jenny showed it to you?'

‘If it made her feel better—why not? The guy was an arsehole. It was her way of letting off steam.'

‘But—'

‘These things can backfire,' Ian said impatiently. ‘Jen knew that. She wasn't dumb.'

‘Did it backfire?'

‘She never said anything about the guy finding out. But she wouldn't have minded if she'd pissed him off. That was her intention.'

‘Would you mind telling me what happened the night Jenny died?'

‘We came home from a friend's going-away party and went straight to bed.'

‘We?'

‘Fran and me.'

‘Did you assume that Jenny was at home?'

‘I guess so. I wasn't thinking about it.'

‘What time would this have been?'

‘Around two.'

‘Did you leave any lights on while you were out?'

‘The porch light. At the front. We always do that.'

‘Was it on when you got back?'

‘Yes.'

‘Did you switch it off?'

‘Fran did.'

‘What about the back of the house? Is there a light there?'

‘The globe went and we didn't get around to replacing it. Our back gate's padlocked. We hardly ever use it. And the fence is quite high.'

‘Did you go straight to sleep?'

‘More or less.'

‘Did you wake up at all during the remainder of the night?'

‘I'm actually a very sound sleeper. It takes a lot to wake me.'

‘How did Jenny intend to spend the evening?'

‘As far as I knew she wasn't going out.'

‘Was there anything to indicate she
was
home?'

‘What do you mean?'

‘Glasses on the bench, dishes in the sink?'

‘There was a glass and an empty bottle of Fosters. The police took them.'

‘What time did you wake up?'

‘Fran woke around nine-thirty. She got up and had a shower. I stayed in bed for another half an hour. Someone rang for Jenny.'

‘Who?'

‘Rose, a friend from work. Fran went up and knocked on her door. You know, all of this is in Fran's statement. And mine. The police made us go over every step.'

‘If you wouldn't mind repeating it for me?'

Ian studied me with an exasperated expression, then he said, ‘Fran knocked. When there was no answer, she opened Jenny's door. Jenny was just lying there. Fran went over to her. She screamed. I woke up and ran upstairs. Jenny was lying on her back. I—I had to stop Fran from trying to revive her. I could see that she was dead.'

‘Where was the syringe?'

‘Beside the bed. I made Fran come back downstairs, and rang the police.'

‘Do you know Jenny's dealer?'

‘If you mean personally, no. I've taken calls, but that was a long time ago.'

‘What about alcohol?'

‘What about it?'

‘What did Jenny like to drink?'

‘Beer. Spirits. Whatever.'

‘She kept a good supply?'

Ian shrugged.

‘The Fosters. Do you know when she bought it?'

‘I bought that, as a matter of fact. Look, Jenny was a grown woman, and I was not her keeper.'

‘What about the garbage? Were there any bottles in it?'

‘The police took the bin. It's not as though me and Fran had the chance to become little amateur detectives. We were shoved out very unceremoniously.'

‘What about Jenny's family?'

‘What family?'

‘You mean she was an orphan?'

‘I mean her parents disowned her. That's a good word, isn't it? Disown. Implies that they owned her to begin with, which I guess they thought they did. Anyhow, clear enough in the circumstances. When they found out she was using heroin, they refused to have any more to do with her.'

I wondered if Jenny's body was still lying in the morgue.

‘What about brothers and sisters?'

‘There's a boy and girl. Much younger. Jen's mum had her when she was very young, then married again. After Jen left home, she tried to keep in touch with her half-brother and sister, but her parents wouldn't have a bar of it. Particularly her stepfather.'

‘But surely, once she stopped using—'

‘We'll never know what
might
have happened, will we?'

‘Where did Jenny come from?'

‘She went to college in Canberra. Before that, she lived in Orange. That's where she was born. Just outside it, actually. Her real father was a market gardener. He died a few years ago.'

‘Did Jenny talk about her clients?'

‘If something unusual happened, she might tell us. But she liked to keep work and home separate.'

‘What about an ACT politician called Eden Carmichael?'

‘He's the one who just died? Of a heart attack?'

‘He died at Margot Lancaster's club. I was wondering if Jenny ever spoke about him.'

‘Not that I recall.'

‘Did she ever mention a computer company called
CleanNet
?'

‘I don't think so, no.'

‘Could I see her room?'

‘You can look through the door. There's not much to see.'

I followed Ian up the stairs. It seemed to get a degree hotter every step. The whole top of the house appeared open to the sun.

‘How many bedrooms are there?'

Ian answered me over his shoulder. ‘Three. Fran and I share a bedroom and a study.'

He opened the door to the room that had been Jenny's, and stepped to one side. I stood in the doorway.

Bands of heat and light followed one another in regular pulsations, reflecting off pine floors stained a darker colour than the ones downstairs. White curtains were pulled back. There was the feel of summer in a humid place. The end of life in Jenny Bishop's room smelt soft, rotting, sweet. There were a million ways for life to leave a body, a million small ways every second, so common as not to be remarked on, as unworthy of comment as masturbating in a handkerchief.

A low table held a lamp, cigarettes, a box of tissues. A bookshelf along one wall was practically empty. Three books stood in a pile on the floor, the top one open and face down, a paperback copy of Toni Morrison's
Beloved
. There was a wooden bed base underneath the window.

Ian followed my line of sight and said, ‘The police took the mattress for tests. They took the syringe as well, and DNA samples from Fran and me. And our fingerprints.'

‘Was there blood? Or any sign that there'd been a struggle?'

‘No. Fran thought Jenny was asleep, but then she saw the syringe—'

Ian's voice caught. I waited before asking, ‘Did Jenny own a ­computer?'

‘She used mine.'

‘For email?'

‘Yes.'

Jenny's room was at the head of the stairs. Three other doors led off a narrow landing. I peered into the bathroom. It was the same age as the rest of the house. Nothing had been done to modernise it, to replace the bath in one corner, or the shower recess with its wide, old-fashioned nozzle. Blue and white tiles were chipped in places. The floor was tiled as well, the tiles cut and angled carefully for drainage. Like the kitchen and every other part of the house I'd seen, it was clean and well-kept. A window to the left of a deep handbasin was wide open. Hot, thick Sydney air poured in.

I walked over to the window and looked out. The view was of the racetrack: huge arc lights, grandstands, horses' stalls. Sprinklers were swinging, dampening the dust. I noted that some of the terrace houses still had outside lavatories. Others had garden sheds. The laneway behind them was too narrow for cars.

I pulled the window in towards me. It had an old-fashioned catch like the ones in the kitchen, no more than one bit of metal fitting behind another. A flyscreen was coming apart from its wooden frame at the bottom. A narrow strip was missing.

‘Did Jenny ever bring customers home?' I asked as we headed back downstairs.

‘She wouldn't have wanted to.' Ian sounded tired. ‘Jen wasn't—she wasn't careless about what she did, you know.'

‘Would you mind showing me around outside? I promise I'll be quick.'

Ian said something under his breath that sounded like, ‘For God's sake'.

He took me out the back door, through the kitchen. I noted that this door was fitted with a simple lock, and had neither chain nor deadlock. The wood was old, paint peeling here and there.

Someone had put a fair amount of work into a vegetable garden. Healthy, thick-leaved tomatoes climbed their stakes. Other beds held zucchinis, lettuce, capsicum. I asked to see the back gate first. It looked solid enough, but was fitted with an ordinary chain and padlock, the kind you could buy at any hardware shop. I scanned the rest of the yard and fences.

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